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League Members Hear from Lee Murdock—Yakima County League is Building Engagement

Published on 11/11/2023
LWVBWC members attending a member meeting on Oct. 21 had an opportunity to interview (by Zoom) Lee Murdock, president of LWV of Yakima County. Murdock spoke of the challenge to fully engage their communities.

Yakima County has a population of about 255,000 (compared to Whatcom County’s 230,000), yet their League has only 54 members, while the Bellingham/Whatcom County League has over 250.  
Slightly over 50% of the Yakima County population is Hispanic or Latino, and 5.5% are American Indian (the U.S. Census term for Native American) or Alaska Native.  Combining all people of color (aka “global majority”) brings the total to 58.5%, with 41.5% being non-Hispanic white.  It is hard not to surmise that a League is more likely to attract members drawing from a larger white population, which challenges us to be more inclusive.  

The board of the Yakima County League wanted their leadership team and membership to be more diverse, but at their annual meeting, while discussing nominations to the leadership team, they wondered how to avoid the trap of tokenism. They realized that they first had to serve the communities of color in the area before trying to bring them onto the leadership team.  

When tabling in areas of the county with large BIPOC populations, many of whom don’t speak English, it became essential to translate all their materials into Spanish, a work which is ongoing. 
They realized that many nonpartisan organizations were also doing forums, meet-and-greets, ballot walkthroughs, etc.  So the League reached out to other nonpartisan organizations and eventually formed the Yakima County Civic Engagement Collective.  They started having monthly meetings to discuss how to collaborate and to have a safe space to ask the other groups if the League’s events were culturally sensitive and reaching a diverse population. The Collective has taken on a life of its own, allowing the League to back away so as to avoid another pitfall—that of assuming the “savior” role. The League makes an effort to include all the other organizations’ election events on the League’s website,

In a recent candidate forum, different organizations provided food, interpretation, etc. This year they introduced nonpartisan ballot walkthrough events for new voters, with the Collective helping to divide up the work so that they covered the county, with Spanish interpretation when needed.
Audience members asked a wide variety of questions. For example, how has the Yakima League balanced DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) work with the other work the League does?  Lee provided a “bad metaphor”: You have your job and your volunteer work, but at the same time you have to eat healthy.  DEI is not another project, it’s something that has to overlay everything you do. Maybe your diet is not so great, but you can make improvements over time.

Following the conversation with Lee, attendees broke into small groups to discuss what DEI might look like in a League activity of their choice.

To view the recording, click here